Broadcast review of THE BEST BROTHERS and VENUS IN FUR

by Lynn on October 5, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on the internet on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5. FM; The Best Brothers at the Tarragon Theatre until October 27; Venus in Fur at the Bluma Appel Theatre until October 27.

 Because construction workers accidentally cut the phone lines to the radio station, a live radio broadcast was not possible. But the show did go out on the internet.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


1) Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer. Hi Lynn


Morning Phil


What treats do you have today?


Two shows. The Best Brothers is by Canada’s own, Daniel MacIvor at the Tarragon Theatre, about prickly, brotherly love.

 And Venus in Fur by David Ives at the Bluma Appel Theatre, about sexual politics, theatre games, and getting even.


2) Ok, as we usually do, let’s go in order. The Best Brothers. What’s it about?


It’s a clever play on words. It’s about Hamilton and Kyle Best who are brothers. They are not the best brothers to each other. Hamilton is the more sensible of the two and Kyle just irritates him with his silly thoughts and ways.

 Recently they had to deal with the death of their mother and that brought out other irritations and truths. Their mother was killed when she attended a gay pride parade and a rather huge drag queen fell off a float, onto their mother, crushing her. Their ways of dealing with the news is very telling.

 Hamilton, who is an architect, is very upset and rushes to the hospital immediately. Kyle, who is a real estate agent, takes the news more coolly and would rather show a client a property, but eventually realizes he should go too. This is not to suggest that real estate agents are coldblooded about emotional matters and architects are warm hearted.


3) What truths come out?


Plenty, and deep seated resentments. Kyle is gay with on again, off again lover. He seems flighty, unmoved by his mother’s death and habitually says something inappropriate—he wants to put his website address in the obituary, until Hamilton puts a stop to that. Hamilton says to Kyle that their mother loved him better. Kyle says their mother loved Hamilton harder.

I love the distinction. We also learn that Kyle knew things about the mother that Hamilton didn’t and that makes him feel left out. On top of that his marriage is breaking up.

 And there’s the matter of Enzo their mother’s dog. What’s to be done with him. For all of Kyle’s silliness, he has a nice sense of what should be done and he does it with grace. And for all his common sense Hamilton is teaming with mis-placed anger. He’s angry at his brother who got his mother’s affection. He’s angry that she died at a Gay Pride Day event and so blames his brother Kyle.


4) Are the differences resolved?


I think there is an understanding that might not have been there before.

 Daniel MacIvor is a celebrated playwright in this country. He is a natural story-teller with expressive language that digs into the inner emotions of his characters. He has a wonderful turn of phrase and he paints full bodied characters. We even get a glimpse of the mother, when she makes an entrance to offer some of her motherly, womanly wisdom.

I do have trouble with the character of Kyle for a bit.  I think he is a buffoon in his off-handed way of dealing with the news of his mother’s death, but then he grew on me. But the production does wonders to bring the play to life.

 I first saw The Best Brothers last summer at Stratford. It’s now transferred with the same cast to Tarragon. It’s directed by Dean Gabourie who has a clean vision and unfussy director’s style. The set by Julie Fox is a simple square playing area with few furnishings. Evocatively lit by Itai Erdal.

As Kyle John Beale with a languid body stance, one knee bent, hip a bit to the side but not obvious. Love the subtlety of it. And for all of Kyle’s off-handedness, Beale brings out his kindness, his perception of his brother’s distress and what he needs to know about how their mother felt about him.

 And as Hamilton, Daniel MacIvor is stiff backed, clench jawed; irritated, and hurting. He also plays his mother at times, arm bent at the elbow and the elbow resting on the other arm bent across his body. He wears the mother’s large blue hat for the first scenes and then all we need is the body language of those arms and the off handed way the mother speaks to know that that is the mother speaking. We have been primed by the body language.

It’s an interesting play about families, brothers, and love.


5) And now for something completely different, Venus in Fur. A play about sexual politics for a start.


Indeed. David Ives is a dazzling, smart, intelligent writer with a vivid imagination. A playwright named Thomas is trying to find the right actress to play Vanda in his adaptation of the classic sado-masochistic book Venus in Furs written in 1870 by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s.

 That’s about a couple who are drawn together in which the man wants to be enslaved by the woman and the woman wants to be the master in the relationship. The emotions are obsessive and even violent.

 Thomas is also directing it and needs a 24 year old woman to play Vanda the seductive woman of the play and not some twittering valley girl. It’s after a long day of auditions and Thomas is about to go home to his fiancée, discouraged, when into the rehearsal room comes a flighty, swearing young woman named Vanda, if you can believe it,  who wants to audition. She is dressed in very high heels, the slang name of which I can’t say on radio. In her previous job she was a hooker. She wears a black bustier, garters and a black, leather dog collar. She is not Thomas’s idea of Vanda but she persists in convincing him to audition her.

 Thomas reads the part of the man and Vanda reads the part of Vanda. And she is transformed to 1870; she is sensual, alluring, aristocratic, the voice is softer and the accent is perfect. Thomas is bewitched. They read the whole play together.

 There is reference to the goddess Venus. Interspersed with the play are Vanda’s comments that the play seems misogynistic to women and pornographic. Thomas argues back. Matters get heated and insults are thrown; role playing becomes intense; sexual tension is at a high. Who is this Vanda? Is she the real character come to teach Thomas a lesson? A puzzlement.


5) Do we find out?


We do but I’m not telling.


6) How’s the production?


On the whole I think it serves the play and sure tells the story. Both Carly Street as Vanda and Rick Miller as Thomas have a lovely sexual chemistry. Street is has that sexuality of Vanda, a woman who has used it to get what she wants. She moves in that leather get-up and spike heals with confidence. As Vanda the modern woman, she is vulgar, raging, uncouth.

 Initially she seems affected and acting when she arrives and is swearing because she’s late for the audition, but settles into the ease of the performance. And as Vanda of 1870, she is elegant, distinguished, and as sophisticated as modern Vanda is vulgar. It’s a credible transformation.

 As Thomas, Rick Miller brings out the exasperation and misogyny of both Rick and the character in the play from 1870. 

 It’s directed by Jennifer Tarver who does realize the sexual dance of these two characters. There is danger mixed with seduction—a volatile combination.

 I do have problems with Debra Hanson’s set. It’s supposed to be a dingy, simple audition room. Hanson’s design is a large room with a back wall that is partially brick close to the ground, but then the brick changes to a huge wall of glass window and it dwarfs these two actors.  There should be a sense of claustrophobia that entraps these two wrangling characters, and there is no such sense here.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s Blog at

 The Best Brothers plays at the Tarragon Theatre until Oct. 27.

 Venus in Fur plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until Oct. 27.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tambra Anderson October 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Yes I hate the fake boobs and the plastic bodies